Blue Colonial, David Roderick
[70pp, $14.00, The American Poetry Review]
The Last Person to
Hear Your Voice, Richard Shelton
[109pp, $14.00, University of Pittsburgh
I have reached a time of life
(or is it a time of reading?) when all I seem to value is the incidence of a
'phew' factor, or, as others have expressed it, revealed experience which
makes the hairs on your neck stand on end. Regardless of the informing and
appreciative introduction by the distinguished poet Robert Pinsky, Blue
Colonial (featuring poems on the
colonists of Plymouth, Massachusetts) contains very little of the 'oomph' of
which I seek. This is not to underestimate the measured and sustained
thoughtfulness of David Roderick's ' first book prize', but rather, to submit
to undeniable feelings of deja vue
Thus, in 'The Execution of John Billington':
That was it:
the rope pulling taut, his spine jerking.
the end of the brilliant, breathing thing
that was his
Or in 'Cordwood':
told me it was hard
to be a
Or in 'William Butten's Burial at Sea':
On the ship
how it feels
like a stone
pockets as you start
you to the
deeper swells of the sea.
In longing for the kind of original voice as exemplified in Berryman's
Mistress Bradstreet, one has to be
satisfied with exceptions, whose whole never quite makes it through the
highly conscientious endeavour; which is not to say that exceptions
absolutely do not exist. Take this memorable line in 'Edward Winslow's Cure
When my tea
passed his lips I knew
he would not
starve or shudder his life away.
The same difference seems to
afflict my appreciation of Richard Shelton's The Last Person to Hear Your
Voice in which a multitude of the
expected is occasionally redeemed with lively and lovely lines, as in
There is the
possibility that you will feel ok for a short time.
A little bird
told me that, the liar.
Or in 'Chicago';
War all over
now. Go home
and eat a
And in 'Lugubrious' ('a man of sorrow'):
the abstract quality
of grease. He
praises the mad who live
by the light
of their own immaculate shadows.
He knows what
fog is doing in the cleavage
hills. He recognises greed.'
Finally, there are moments in ' Yes Miss Emily' well worth recalling:
am nobody I ever heard of
but I have
clothes in the closet
and I get
used to it slowly'